October 21, 2016. Lower East Side, Milwaukee. Like Minds Brewery. —
What I appreciated most about John Lavelle’s beers was his delicate balancing of flavors in his Brettanomyces beers. Don’t get me wrong. Horehound, his 9% ABV Double IPA was so juicy, so tropical, with wonderfully matched malt and bitterness running under the melon and berry notes of the hops. And I loved Exiled, his saison made with Rishi lemon peel. But it was really his Brett beers that struck me.
To help explain why, I want to talk a little bit about balance.
Whether you like it or not, balance of flavors is something we use to judge a beer. Some people seek balance; others, Like Black Husky, find the whole concept of balance limiting, and make beers that, like Sparkly Eyes, succeed through sheer force of flavor. Similarly, some of Mobcraft’s beers work more through idiosyncrasy and smart use of adjuncts than through careful balance. And I love that. Both those Milwaukee breweries are freaking awesome.
The Brett beers John Lavelle brews for Like Minds work in a different way. Subtle and nuanced, they carefully balance the details of yeast, hops, and malt. (Aside: I wish I could give you thoughts on how brewing water might influence his beers, but alas, I don’t quite have the palate to do so.)
I tend to think of Lavelle’s beers like carefully constructed songs in which every detail has significance, adding to the overall impression at just the right time.
Take his Rhubarb sour. The wine barrel presents as huge, woody aromatics, then blends into slightly tart rhubarb, then rises again with a slightly tannic finish. Almost simultaneously, the rhubarb begins as a touch of fruit, then turns to a pleasantly acidic note that blends into the wine barrel. Meanwhile, the wine barrel runs through the whole beer as an ever-so-slight undernote. The wheat adds body and contributes its usual crispness to match the tart rhubarb. Every piece of the beer rises and falls into place like notes in a song, each elements woven in concert.
Likewise, Archimedes, his IPA fermented entirely with the house strain of Brettanomyces (which he captured and isolated over a period of four years) takes elements of yeast and hops and carefully intertwines them. You might think that ‘carefully’ is quite the wrong word for an all Brett IPA, but the way the beer opens with earthy, herbal hops, which are followed by the tobacco, leather-funk of the Brett, which blends into a rosemary, piney finish, is wonderfully balanced.
Simply put, I found Lavelle’s beers a joy to drink and to contemplate. While these beers were certainly appealing to a beer geek like me, someone who loves Orval, and knows, more-or-less, what I’m getting myself into when I order a beer, it was fun watching my wife (who is certainly game to try anything) find her way into these beers, especially because she didn’t quite know what to expect.
So, while I suspect that many or even most of the people reading this are comfortable with Brett beers and beers in a mixed-fermentation style, I think the beers Lavelle brews at Like Minds are something anyone can appreciate.
Ultimately, like Brettanomyces itself, Like Minds’ beers are distinctive, yielding a complexity and depth to anyone who takes the time to enjoy them.